In 1951, Ralph A. Patterson moved from Los Angeles to Roseburg, opened a dance studio and tapped into a culture that is still thriving today.
Story by Jennifer Grafiada Photos by Thomas Boyd
Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world.
So claimed the sign over the entrance to the grand lobby of the Earl Carroll Theatre on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard. Porcelain-skinned women swathed in silks and chiffons made their entrance on the arms of the Who’s Who of Hollywood to relish the latest acts in the glamorous supper-club “entertainment palace.”
The dust of World War II had barely settled when a glittering new era dawned, and the lure of Hollywood attracted young men and women from across the country. Included in the migration was Ralph A. Patterson, a young ballet dancer from Oregon who had trained in Portland and San Francisco.
At the apex of his career, Patterson pirouetted across the famously massive Earl Carroll stage, which included a double turntable, a staircase and swings adorned with gem-encrusted showgirls.
By 1951, however, the theater’s heyday was over. Patterson, with a young family to support, ditched Hollywood and acquired an established dance studio in downtown Roseburg. With his wife and children in tow, he headed north to try his hand as an instructor and businessman in a small, rugged timber town worlds away from glittering L.A.
Ralph Patterson’s Roseburg School of Dancing was a success. Throughout the following decades, thousands of children, teenagers and adults took classes from him in ballet, toe, tap, jazz and ballroom, many going on to establish successful dance careers.
“HE BROUGHT DANCE AND CLASSICAL MUSIC INTO THE SOULS OF A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO NEEDED IT.” —Susan Chitwood
In the 1980s and 1990s, Kathryn Howard taught at the school before moving to open her own studio.
Susan Chitwood, founder of Chitwood Studio of Dance, was a protegé of Patterson. She was in his first recital in 1951, and went on to become a teacher.
“He brought dance and classical music into the souls of a lot of people who needed it,” she says. “And discipline. He taught discipline very well.”
Ralph M. Patterson, the son of Ralph A., spent many hours of his childhood in the studio, as did his twin sister and younger brother. As he grew up, he developed a passion for ballet and trained in San Francisco, as his father did.
When Ralph A. died in 2001, Ralph M. decided to carry on his father’s legacy — but with a few changes. He had the studio’s rooms repainted in soothing colors, and focused on developing a clientele of more adults and senior citizens with an array of dance and fitness classes taught by independent instructors.
Today the downtown studio, which sits on a quiet side street off the north end of Jackson Street, has become a hub for a wide variety of dance styles and instructors.
After age 50, Ralph M. and his wife, Diane, became active in ballroom dancing and spent many years training in Portland. When he returned to Roseburg to run the studio, the couple began offering private lessons independently and through Umpqua Community College, as Ralph A. had done in the 1990s.
But the studio continues.
On any given day, people of all ages and body types can be seen coming in and going out of the studio. The original “Ralph Patterson’s Roseburg School of Dancing” sign still hangs outside, although the business has been renamed Roseburg Dance & Fitness Studios. The building’s facade may need a facelift, but what’s inside has never looked better.
Roseburg Dance & Fitness Studios
865 SE Court St.